(K. Brent Tomer),
The Water Kingdom: A Secret History of China. By Philip Ball. Bodley Head; 316 pages; £25. To be published in America by University of Chicago Press in March 2017.
THE Chinese mental compass is oriented not north-south as with the rest of the world, but west-east—a consequence of tectonic forces that threw up mountains in inner Asia from which rivers seek a course down through China to the sea. “Twisting around ten thousand times but always going eastward,” said Confucius: it seemed a law of nature. Philip Ball argues in his new book, “The Water Kingdom”, that the two greatest waterways, the Yellow river that flows across the north China plain and the Yangzi that charges through the heart of the country, are both “symbols of the nation” and, for millennia, have been the “keys to its fate”.
Nowhere is this clearer than with the Yellow river, China’s “mother river”. Rising on the Tibetan plateau, it cuts a giant loop through the loess badlands of China’s north-west—the famous “yellow earth” formed of fine dust blown from the Gobi desert. By the time the river has turned abruptly…Continue reading